Today, two of my favorite Hollywood stars, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson, star in a film called “Green Book.” It’s rated PG 13 which means it’s tame enough for the whole family to go see.
But I hope Hollywood doesn’t sugar-coat the story, the meaning and usage, of what is officially called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” It was a travel guide for African American motorists traveling across the U.S., specifically the deep South, outlining safe places to stay overnight, dine, as well as places to get your hair cut and shop for groceries.
And when I say “safe places” I mean not only places where Black folk wouldn’t be turned away but places where they wouldn’t get killed.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was developed and published by a mailman in New York City, Victor Hugo Green, from 1936 to 1966 during the Jim Crow era. (Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced the practice of separate but equal.)
The first edition of the Green book only covered hotels and restaurants in the NYC area, but Green eventually expanded the coverage by gathering information from other postal workers and readers who provided insightful information.
The 1945 version encouraged motorists driving through Denver to get a bite at the Dew Drop Inn. And if you were looking for a bar in Atlanta the Yeah Man was the place to check out.
The Green Book was a necessity in the mid-20th century. And with the great strides our country has made in race relations like the Civil Rights Movement there is no need for such a handbook today, right?
Sadly, that’s not the case. The FBI released a report indicating that hate crimes in America rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data that showed an even larger increase in anti-Semitic attacks.
Example: Today, law abiding black and brown drivers are often frightened and humiliated after being stopped by police who typically see them as criminals. Black and brown motorists are pulled over by police at rates exceeding those of whites. The message: You don’t belong here.
So, as you head to the theater next week to see two of my favorite actors star in “Green Book” I suggest do your homework to understand what my father, aunts, uncles and so many African Americans had to endure just to drive across the country and secondly, know that driving while black and brown… can still be dangerous today, in the 21st century.